Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war
December 23, 2015 10:03 PM   Subscribe

“We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.”

Did the Joint Chiefs of Staff share intelligence with foreign leaders in a behind-the-scenes attempt to circumvent Obama's Syria policy?
Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.
...
The JCS adviser told me that one of Hollande’s main goals in flying to Washington had been to try to persuade Obama to join the EU in a mutual declaration of war against Islamic State. Obama said no. The Europeans had pointedly not gone to Nato, to which Turkey belongs, for such a declaration. ‘Turkey is the problem,’ the JCS adviser said.
posted by kanuck (44 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Did Seymore Hersch provide a single shred of evidence to back up his claims?
posted by humanfont at 10:34 PM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I feel that Hersh is making a slow but steady transition from great journalist to great novelist, the problem is that he's apparently unaware of this.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:52 PM on December 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


hersch gets his information by interviewing well-placed sources that he's built a roster of over five decades of investigative journalism. editors at LRB vetted this piece and certainly know his sources, it's not a blog post. i know it's been fashionable to call him a crank since the bin laden piece ran, but that account has only been validated since then.

hersch has been behind some of the biggest stories of the last half century and it's absurd to me that people think he's just making this shit up or something
posted by p3on at 10:55 PM on December 23, 2015 [29 favorites]


Not sure how an accusation of plagiarism is validation of anything.
posted by humanfont at 11:07 PM on December 23, 2015


Not sure how an accusation of plagiarism is validation of anything.

refuted by the journalist in question
posted by p3on at 11:13 PM on December 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


"O what webs we weave..."
posted by infini at 11:41 PM on December 23, 2015






vox having it in for hersh is insane to me considering their entire shtick is to write explainers for people too lazy to read longform journalism and have never published anything but clickbait, much less done investigative journalism
posted by p3on at 11:46 PM on December 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


‘Turkey is the problem,’ the JCS adviser said.

Even an extremely casual observer of Middle Eastern events and Western foreign policy reactions (ie: me) understands this almost implicitly dating back at least as far as the buildup to the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom: Turkey has always been perfectly content to let the entirety of the Middle East burn to the ground if it means not having to lose an eastern third of their country in the formation of an independent Kurdistan.

Again, extremely casual observer, but I think there's an argument to be made that much of the region's inability to recover from the damage inflicted by Sykes-Picot can be blamed directly on Turkey's (perfectly understandable) obstructive behavior.

Step one to solving this would be for the U.S. to stop using Turkey in general and Incirlik in particular as a forward operating base.
posted by Ryvar at 11:46 PM on December 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Even an extremely casual observer of Middle Eastern events and Western foreign policy reactions (ie: me) understands this almost implicitly dating back at least as far as the buildup to the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom: Turkey has always been perfectly content to let the entirety of the Middle East burn to the ground if it means not having to lose an eastern third of their country in the formation of an independent Kurdistan.

It's not just the Turk leaders either. You ever listen to a Turk turn about Kurds? "We don't hate Kurds." "We only hate the PKK." "Even Kurds hate the PKK.". Like it's a complete fucking picnic for the Kurds under Turkish rule if not for the PKK making everyone hate Kurds and they're only bombing insurrectionists trying to start a civil war despite Turkey bombing the YPG in Syria on multiple occasions. Always by accident or misunderstanding mind you.

The whole fucking body politic in Turkey has lost the complete plot. Erdogan is literally Turkey's own Trump and he stokes those flames well. He hands the West a shit sandwich and tells them it's Nutella. Then he tries to prove it by eating it and saying how good it is.
posted by Talez at 12:23 AM on December 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


The whole fucking body politic in Turkey has lost the complete plot.

Not if you presume that Erdogan's plan is to make himself President-for-Life of an Islamic Republic. His strategy of supplying ISIS works on so many levels: hurts the Kurds, weakens his neighbour, gives him cheap oil. In fact it literally gives him cheap oil, if you believe the reports that his family is getting rich from the "illicit" trade - and I do believe those reports, even though they come via Russia, because there's no way this is happening without his direction.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:20 AM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]




Seymour Hersh's Latest Bombshell: U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad (Amy Goodman interviews Hersh on Democracy Now.)

He scoffs at the the Vox piece as bullshit. This is the most interesting (highly placed unnamed sourced) news story I have seen all year. We appear to have no Congressional oversight of the spooks. We appear to have no journalistic watchdog of the spooks. The only protection we have from the spooks is DIA versus CIA spy versus spy. I suppose it's better than nothing but WHAT A WASTE.

Goodman says 250 000 dead Syrians + the world's largest refugee problem.
posted by bukvich at 5:48 AM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I suspect that part of why Hersh's stories sound so bizarre is because we so rarely get to see what's actually going on behind the curtain. Hersh so often seems like the prisoner who returns to the Platonic cave, seeming mad to those still chained there watching the shadows.

Now I have no idea whether Hersh is entirely right here, and not to get all tin-hatty, but I'm pretty sure that in most matters of high policy a) we the public have no idea what's really going on, b) we never will know what's really going on, and c) there's dick all we can do about it anyway.

Hersh has greater access than any of the rest of us, and he's given me no reason to doubt him yet. Is his story 100% true? Maybe not, but if I were a betting man I'd say that his story is a lot closer to the truth than what we're getting otherwise.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:10 AM on December 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think of Hersh like I think of Bob Woodward. Someone who did great work in the past, has been trading on his reputation for decades, and is as likely to be co-opted by his sources as he is to break actual secrets.

If true, this story would be interesting. But I'm not willing to give Hersh the benefit of the doubt anymore.
posted by AndrewInDC at 7:15 AM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Expected to see early comments be content-free smears of Hersh, was not disappointed. (Although in a larger sense, of course, I am. Can't we leave that to the paid lackeys of the powers that be?)
posted by languagehat at 7:56 AM on December 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


While we're examining Hersh (rather than the article), is there any final consensus on his piece The Killing of Osama bin Laden? He makes many factual claims at direct odds with the consensus US account. I keep hoping some other journalists follow along and try to verify what he says. Did that happen? If not, what does that mean for the veracity of his story?
posted by Nelson at 8:36 AM on December 24, 2015


What does "consensus" mean there?
posted by rhizome at 9:11 AM on December 24, 2015


I love the sympathy for Gaddafi's butt, and the casual dismissal of hundreds of thousands of murdered civilians as Hawkish American propaganda.

Bonus Points for: Remember Kids, Saddam was a great man who never did anything bad! Just like our man Bashar.

Double Extra Bonus Points: a new Benghazi conspiracy; this time to save America from itself!

This article is a great example of why we have civilian oversight of the military. If any of this happened, then it was a terrible plan, treason?, and it completely failed. It's only apparent motivation being a myopic fixation on Jihadism.

The way the article casts the Joint Chiefs as stone cold pros who worked to stop Jihadism, contain Turkey, and save us from losing another friendly dictator, all without Obama even noticing is deeply wierd in an infowars kind of way.

For example, Turkey's complicity wth Daesh has been in the news for years. Is it not somehow even remotely possible that the US publicly supports Turkey for geopolitical reasons, while cooperating closely with the PYD/YPG/YPJ in a way that is counter to Gollum's interests? And that this is a coherent policy?

Or is this the good work of benevolent authoritarian technocrats, never elected by the American people, but better stewards of their interests than they could ever choose themselves?
posted by ethansr at 9:49 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


What does "consensus" mean there?

I wish I knew. I deliberately used the word ambiguously because I don't know exactly what I mean. Um, "the thing most sensible people who paid some attention believe".

The consensus view of the US raid on bin Laden is more or less what's in Zero Dark Thirty, that our intelligence apparatus discovered bin Laden and then our SEAL team came in and tried to capture him and failing that, killed him and buried him at sea. There are specific details that matter, like the CIA faking a vaccination drive to get DNA evidence and the idea that Pakistan didn't know about our raid.

Hersh's story is significantly different both in the broad shape and the specific facts. The intelligence gathering is way more complicated, particularly when it comes to US/Pakistan relations. The vaccination story was a ruse. Pakistan knew we were coming in the day of the raid. The SEALs never really intended to capture, it was an assassination mission. There was no burial at sea; the SEALs "had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire" and then dumped parts of it in the mountains.

Hersh put his reputation on the line publishing this story. He got widely condemned and ridiculed for it, but AFAIK no one has ever seriously gone and tried to verify the story independently. I don't know what that means for Hersh's believability.

This new story about Syria, it's a different kind of reporting. Mostly rumors and whispers as opposed to verifiable facts. Unless someone goes on record I suspect it will never be verifiable. What I find most astonishing is Hersh's writing seems to support the mutiny.
posted by Nelson at 10:39 AM on December 24, 2015


A good question might be why Hersh receives such criticism while Matt Apuzzo (and many other anon-reliant reporters) flies under the radar. Is it that Hersh just hasn't worked his way into the anonymous sourcing cool kids club?
posted by rhizome at 12:12 PM on December 24, 2015


Hersch also claimed TWA-800 was brought down by an American missile and not a fuel tank explosion. He also claimed that the US had deployed Seals into Iran in 2005 in preparation for an imminent US attack. He also made various claims about JFK that have not withstood historical criticism.

He insulates himself from criticism by making accusations about the motives of his critics. Rather than simply answering with evidence, facts and sources rather than unsourced rumors.
posted by humanfont at 12:21 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Michael Flynn interview
posted by adamvasco at 12:54 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


The New York Times did a thorough review of the Hersh Osama story in October and their writer thought it held up pretty tight. That guy would have been a hero in D.C. and New York and New Jersey if he could have gotcha'd Hersh.
posted by bukvich at 1:05 PM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


The General Flynn interview adamvasco linked is essential.

Flynn: It was huge error. As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him. The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi and for Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq. History will not be and should not be kind with that decision.

(he didn't confess to sneaking intel to Assad but that certainly sounds like it would be a good idea)
posted by bukvich at 1:26 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's the clever bit. They gave no intelligence to "the enemy" only to allies.
100% deniability. I think this is less of a surprise to many Europeans than the shock horror this might generate in the USA.
The disconnect of mainstream America as informed by the infotainment channels seldom ceases to amaze.
The closing paragraphs about the Uighers is an ugly forcast of more wars for many years.
posted by adamvasco at 1:48 PM on December 24, 2015


Thank you bukvich, that is a fantastic article about Hersh's bin Laden story. I was looking for exactly something like that and didn't know it existed. The author explicitly avoids passing judgement on whether Hersh's version is more true or not than the Zero Dark Thirty one, but he does explicitly say that Hersh's reporting is plausible.

The concluding section is chilling to me
Where does the official bin Laden story stand now? For many, it exists in a kind of liminal state, floating somewhere between fact and mythology. The writing of history is a process, and this story still seems to have a long way to go before the government’s narrative can be accepted as true, or rejected as false.
posted by Nelson at 2:20 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is absolutely certain that members of Obama's administration were lying about the assault on bin Laden's residence. We know this because the (very vivid!) stories contradicted each other. The fact that there's now a consensus version doesn't mean that it's more likely to be true.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:16 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


U.N. war crimes team will not investigate foreign strikes in Syria
“There is no possibility that we will investigate the American air strikes or French or British or Russian,” he said.

The decision reflected a desire not to meddle into the affairs of powers outside Syria as well as limited means at the group’s disposal, Pinheiro added.
Yes, we mustn't meddle!
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:31 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


What news on that MSF hospital strike?
posted by infini at 8:41 PM on December 24, 2015


The last I heard was that no government was willing to sponsor MSF's request for an inquiry. Not even Russia, which surprised me.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:37 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mark Bowden responds to the New York Times
posted by humanfont at 6:03 AM on December 25, 2015


That's Mark Bowden the torture apologist..
posted by adamvasco at 6:14 AM on December 25, 2015


I'm no fan of Bowden, but that defense of his bin Laden reporting is strong. In case you don't have time to read it, his basic point is his version of the bin Laden story comes from 10+ named sources, on the record. Hersh's story was based on two unnamed sources. That's why I've been so interested in verification of Hersh's bin Laden story; if it's accurate, a bunch of people have to know.

Back to the fine article we're discussing here, on Syria, what's frustrating about it is the primary source is "A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs". But it's not that thin. There's other sources, most named: former DIA director Michael Flynn, Patrick Lang, a former DIA colonel, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Also an unnamed "senior adviser to the Kremlin on Middle East affairs". But most of the strong claims in the story are hinged on this unnamed Joint Chiefs adviser. Reading the article a second time it reads very much like the article is the story he wants to tell, not Hersh. That's strange.

(The China section of the article is better sourced. Named there are Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador to China, and Christina Lin, "a scholar" who worked in the Pentagon. There's also an unnamed "Washington foreign affairs analyst" to provide a second opinion to Moustapha.)

There's so much strong analysis in this Hersh article on Syria. The claim there's really no moderate rebels to support. The details of Turkish non-opposition to IS. The complicated relationship to Russia, and to Assad. The Chinese interest, the Uighurs. It's a thoughtful analysis of the very messy situation in Syria today. He also makes a strong case that the US should be more friendly to Russia. Something I find appalling myself, but it's well argued.

The part that's weakly sourced is the bit called out here and in every secondary article I've seen. The bit about the Joint Chiefs going behind the president's back and sharing intel. That part only has one source, an unnamed one. It's also the part that makes headlines. I kind of wish Hersh had left that out without more verification, just stuck with the analysis piece.
posted by Nelson at 8:18 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's probably the holiday, but I haven't read any good other reporting about Hersh's story. The best thing I've found is from RT. The Russian propaganda outlet whose reporting should never be trusted. However they have an on camera interview with Hersh. In summary, he says there's now ambiguity about whether the US really wants to oust Assad. He also suggests that the Obama administration is ignoring intelligence on Syria. And some complaints about Ford, the US ambassador to Syria in 2011, his support for the opposition.

Basically it's a video of Seymour Hersh supporting Russia's political line about Syria. Backed by Hersh's anonymous source in the Joint Chiefs, all about DIA analysis. It's like a perfect storm of what-the-fuck.
posted by Nelson at 8:26 AM on December 25, 2015


> It's probably the holiday, but I haven't read any good other reporting about Hersh's story.

And you probably won't (though I hope I'm wrong). Everybody hates Hersh, either from jealousy or from being a lackey, and if they can't shoot him down they prefer to ignore him. Every single story he's broken, from My Lai on, has been dismissed and ridiculed not just by the government, as you'd expect, but by the entire mainstream media. When he's proved right, they just add the story to common knowledge and go on dismissing Hersh. As I said above, it saddens me that he gets the same response from some folks here. I'm not (obviously) asking for credulous acceptance of whatever he says, just for the basic respect due to one of the great reporters of our time.
posted by languagehat at 8:55 AM on December 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


Personally I have great respect for Hersh; I don't often read a long form journalism piece twice just trying to understand what it's said and how it's sourced. OTOH he also goes pretty far out on a limb. That's why I keep looking for sourcing or independent confirmation.
posted by Nelson at 9:29 AM on December 25, 2015


This dissonance between the Pentagon and the White House is nothing new as Hersch pointed out in an earlier article.
posted by adamvasco at 10:09 AM on December 25, 2015


> Personally I have great respect for Hersh; I don't often read a long form journalism piece twice just trying to understand what it's said and how it's sourced. OTOH he also goes pretty far out on a limb. That's why I keep looking for sourcing or independent confirmation.

Absolutely, and you're not one of the commenters I am complaining about. Your attitude is thoroughly sensible, and I too would like independent confirmation. Like I say, I don't just take his word for things, but in a pissing match between Hersh (vague sourcing and all) and the government, which I know lies as a matter of both principle and habit, I'll take Hersh any day.
posted by languagehat at 5:49 PM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


That Vox piece is so bad
Yeah. Way too many citations that are just links to other Vox articles, and the linked NYT piece discussing Dempsey's "repeated public clashes with Obama" doesn't establish anything close to that.

I'm not sure who buys that level of BS... It's only slightly above Buzzfeed. It's also all the more annoying since the Vox piece the other day about living with a spouse with depression was rather good.

Regarding the Hersh article at hand, isn't the point of investigative reporting that you actually establish the truth of a situation definitely rather than making plausible but impossible-to-verify claims? (Upvotes for everyone who mentioned Hersh drifting into writing fiction, et c.)
posted by iffthen at 5:14 AM on December 26, 2015




Thanks. That was much better than the Vox piece. (Not sure it's worth adding further thoughts to this thread.)
posted by iffthen at 7:30 AM on December 31, 2015


A follow up article by Hersh: Military to Military.
posted by adamvasco at 3:50 AM on January 9, 2016


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